On the Throne
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
No one can say that an episode of Reign accomplishes very little. How well it accomplishes all of its feats, however, is another matter entirely. The past two episodes burn through plot at a breakneck speed, leaving little room to the imagination as Lola marries Narcisse, Mary breaks off her engagement to Charles, and Catherine de Medici finds herself sitting once more on the throne of France as the imminent Queen Regent. Certain characters still exist for no reason and that trend unfortunately continues, with Kenna nowhere to be seen as Bash becomes a glorified bodyguard, Leith takes off his shirt, and Claude welcomes King Antoine in the most bemusing royal reception yet. The most confounding plot point that is sort of grazed over outside of one particularly awesome and bloody moment is the revelation of Francis’s illness, not only to the Bourbons of Navarre, but the English court as well, two courts that the French would want to avoid spoiling Francis’s death on all accounts. The English could attack Scotland and possibly even France at a moment’s notice and the Bourbons would have an easy, readymade claim to the French throne in about a moment. That easily could have been a shocking narrative to play out on its own, but the cat’s out of the bag already.
In addition, Reign’s most annoying plot tendency remains in full force, resurfacing once more for seemingly little reason. Royal courts are always a hotbed of intrigue, especially in the days before there were paparazzi basically everywhere and diplomats more often than not could also serve as agents of espionage. But at several moments the audience is treated to characters telling other character massive twists rather than actually seeing them occur in action. For example, we never see any of the protagonists witnessing Sir Nicholas meeting with King Antoine of Navarre, we just see it happening and then Bash tells Mary that that meeting occurred. First, I honestly doubt that the King and Queen of France would be so calm about the English, Protestant ambassador having a night meeting with the Bourbon king that has a stake on the French throne. Nor has any ambassador ever so nonchalantly stated to the heads of state of his station that “all diplomats are spies.” Really? To top it off, maybe it’s because they’re missing Catherine de Medici’s intricate network of espionage, but how about having the English and Navarre retinues be continuously followed? It’s not as if Mary and Francis can really afford any more shockers at this juncture.
Speaking of junctures, the catastrophe of Charles’s reign seems to be set in stone and he may thank every deity imaginable that Catherine is assuming the mantle of regent. A younger brother in a system centered around male primogeniture, Charles was never under the impression that he would seriously ever inherit the French throne. Logically after Francis the throne would pass to Francis and Mary’s son, but such a certainty is a foolish one to have espoused, especially in an era where life expectancies and political backstabbing went hand in hand like wine and cheese. Harboring additional expectations of wanting to choose whatever wife he wanted, Charles also seemed to not comprehend the very basic tenants of political maneuvering. Marriage, even amongst the notoriously romantic French aristocracy, were hardly ever conjoined for the sake of romantic attachment or desire. They were arranged, consummated, and even torn apart for the sake of political convenience. Charles may enjoy the company of Constance of Normandy, but Normandy hardly seems like the best possible alliance for the future King of France. Now, if Charles was going to remain Prince, then that would possibly be a different scenario. He learns a bit over the course of the two hours, but his potential rule seems to be shaky at best. Once again, thank goodness for Catherine, who manages to plot the most dastardly of deeds even from her prison cell.
What Reign does best and how these episodes get such a high score despite all of the plot contrivances and pieces of vapid dialogue is character work. When the writers want to garner the appropriate emotion out of their characters and the relationships that feed those emotional attachments, it can work wonders. Francis’s death honestly should not grasp me the way it does, considering how annoying the characters has been (to put it mildly) for at least half of the series. But the writers have put in the work developing his relationships enough to where Francis’s annoying tendencies tend to fade away a bit and the true sense of loss that is felt breaks through the surface. Mary’s constant balancing of ruling clashes tragically with the impending loss of her husband, Lola’s grief for her friend and the father of her child clash terribly with her love for Narcisse (an odd development in certain ways but at least it’s getting somewhere), and Catherine’s grief for the death of her eldest child clash with her triumphant seating on the throne, in the place of the King of France, not the Queen. Each one of these juxtapositions works because the story has allowed those characters’ feelings to develop, for those contradictions to feel as natural together as opposed, and for these narrative strokes to breathe just as Francis’s last breaths are about to come.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Betrothed):
+“I’m not pregnant. Again.”
+The rat message
+“Nothing that goes on in my privy council is genuine.”
+“Because I’m a woman?:
+“Do see to it that the tower permits her to keep her head.” This act of Elizabeth, throwing one of her ladies to the wolves, is her best scene yet by far
+“Who cares about right or wrong if you’re dead?”
+The usage of the word “erudite”
+Mary walking away from Catherine’s thumping on the door
-Elizabeth’s privy council scenes continue to feel undercooked and remarkably uninteresting
-I don’t understand Claude and Leith, even
-Bash and Delphine is one of the stupidest things this show has ever done
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Extreme Measures):
+Charles’s talk of an heir was terribly awkward
+“He’s very… young.”
+“Good God, even the rats wouldn’t eat it.”
+Musical accompaniment to Mary
+“If you want Conde to live, it will cost you much more than that.”
+“Are you trying to blame a woman for a man’s choices?”
+The return of a Reign ball
+Catherine and her silence
+“Rescind your offer or I will burn Elizabeth’s name to the ground.”
+Did anyone else cheer loudly when Francis killed Antoine’s guard?
+“I’m my father’s son.”
+“She does have her moments, doesn’t she?”
Episode Title: Betrothed
Written by: Lisa Randolph
Directed by: Fred Gerber
Episode Title: Extreme Measures
Written by: Drew Lindo & Wendy Riss
Directed by: Holly Dale
Image Courtesy: Image